Civil to one another


As the Civil Partnership Bill goes through the Dáil, Fiona McCanntalks to three couples about how it will affect their relationships

'We consider ourselves to be as good as married, so we consider this to be almost ticking a box'

Michael Walsh, partner in the law firm BryneWallace, and Des Crowley, doctor, have been together for 12 and a half years. They plan to become civil partners, and have a civil partnership ceremony already organised for later this month, with a blessing in the Unitarian Church followed by a meal and celebration for friends, family, colleagues and business associates.

MICHAEL: We consider ourselves to be as good as married, we consider ourselves to be family . . . so in some respects we consider this to be almost ticking a box. But going through a process of preparing for the Civil Partnership ceremony has been an enlightening experience for us because it actually has brought new definition to our relationship, and brought about a renewed commitment.

DES: Initially, for me anyway, it was about just protecting the legality of the relationship . . . but I have been really surprised how the experience of the last month or six weeks has actually changed that and how much more important it has become to me.

MICHAEL: There have been certain elements of the LGB community who might have rejected the whole notion of civil partnership because it’s not full marriage. And whereas I agree in part with the sentiment that what will be provided for in law doesn’t go far enough, it certainly goes far enough for us to be acceptable, particularly in our own individual circumstances.

DES: Ultimately it is down to the practical issue of our home together, the tax situation, the pension situation, and what is really important for us is our next of kin. Because it’s extraordinary that . . . even though you may be living with a person for 12 years, if anything was to happen to you and you were unable to make your own decision, that the people that they turn to is your parents.

MICHAEL: For me the ceremonial aspect of it is really important, and although we are together 12 years, we haven’t yet stood in front of our nearest and dearest and said ‘this is it’. And to have the opportunity now to do this and for it to also mean something from a legal point of view is fundamental.

DES: While it would have been preferable if the legislation had included the rights for gay parents to adopt, there is an expediency about it as well. If you continue the next five or 10 years fighting for that right, in the meantime so many other situations are not regularised, and some people do not have the luxury of time. They’re unwell, or they’re elderly, and there are a lot of complicated legal issues that need to be sorted out for these couples.

MICHAEL: I’ve been writing to the Minister every fortnight, explaining to him the date of our blessing and how important it is that the Bill would have cleared through the main house of the Oireachtas before our date . . .What is important to us is the certainty that it will happen, so we decided to press the button with the sense that it was effectively a done deal . . .

I’m sure we’ll look back in years to come and wonder why it took so long for the State to finally recognise that it isn’t a bad thing to recognise love between consenting adults and a love that’s about long-term commitment and the creation of family.

'This Bill is not going to do anything for us, for our family. And legally, our family doesn't exist'

Orla Egan-Morley and Catherine Egan-Morley have been together for more than eight years, and have a four-year-old son called Jacob. Catherine is director of Southside Travellers Action Group, and Orla is training and development officer with BeLonG To youth services.

ORLA: It should be a day for celebration and I just feel really disappointed that the politicians haven’t had the courage to legislate for equality and take a child-centred approach to the legislation. [This Bill] is not going to do anything for us, for our family. And legally, our family doesn’t exist.

CATHERINE: I feel let down for my son because it doesn’t acknowledge his place; It doesn’t make any reference to his rights to have two parents, which he has . . . It hits me very deeply because I am his non-biological parent. It hits me on an equality level, but it also hits me on a gut level.

ORLA: Jacob asked me recently, “What’s marriage? What’s a wedding?”. And I said, “Sometimes when people love one another very much it’s a ceremony they do to mark that love.” He looked at me and Catherine and said “We all love one another, why can’t we get married?” How do you explain to a four-year-old that there are some people who think your family is not worth protecting? . . . I don’t care about the money stuff; I care about the rights of my child. I could get up in the morning and take him away from one of his parents and neither he nor she would have any right to fight back.

CATHERINE: We’ve been living together for almost eight years. We own our home together. . . it only takes one person to look at the letter of the law, and if I have him in the hospital and he has a broken leg, I won’t be allowed to make any decisions because I’m not his legal parent or guardian. Right now in the eyes of the country we live in, in the place that we’re committed to, where we bought our home and live our lives, Orla is a lone parent and I’m a single woman . . . The most public commitment we could ever make to each other is have a child together.

ORLA: We spent a long time planning to have Jacob . . . we changed our names by deed poll so that we all shared the same surname, Egan-Morley. We made sure we had our wills in order, we took as many legal steps as we could, but the bottom line is that there is no legal relationship there between Jacob and one of his parents . . . We don’t want to go somewhere else to get married and not have that marriage recognised here.

I want to be able to get married, and have Jacob have a formal legal relationship with both of his parents in the country where he lives.

'The ritual, the declaration, it's an affirmation. People forget that. Everyone should be entitled to that'

Don McClave and Wil Matthews have been together for seven years. Don is an Apple Mac specialist and technical support operative and Wil is a public servant. They had a Civil Partnership ceremony in Belfast earlier this year.

DON: It was pretty much love at first sight – we moved in together after about six months. We’d both been aware of marriage and civil partnership as a political issue, but around the time we were five years together, we said we’d really like to do this. We decided that if we waited for the pace of legislative progress here, we’d all be dead and buried.

We could have gone to Spain or Canada and gone for a full marriage, but that wasn’t practical for economic reasons, and since such marriages weren’t going to be recognised here – we’d been following the Zappone-Gilligan case – we thought we’d be more realistic about it. Civil partnership in Belfast was doable.

WIL: We went up to lodge our petition to have our Civil Partnership in December, and we had it on the 17th of April . . . We had some family members who were not getting any younger and we wanted them to have the day out, and we wanted to be able to get up in front of our loved ones and make a declaration of love for one another . . . It was a really joyous occasion. And even though we’ve been together seven years, our relationship feels different now.

Even though we’re not recognised here, we’ve no legal standing, to us it just feels different. The ritual, the declaration, it’s an affirmation. People forget that. Everyone should be entitled to that and everyone should be entitled to having that celebration with family and friends. It’s not a gay right; it’s just a fundamental human right.

DON: Every step is progress, and we welcome this Civil Partnership Bill, but even so, it’s not enough. We want marriage: not gay marriage, just marriage for all . . . [with this new Bill] presumably when we can present our certificate and have it recorded and acknowledged, we can look at practical things.

There have been some situations where Wil’s been in hospital and I haven’t been able to go through with him to the A&E procedures. So having that kind of recognition, that would give some measure of protection with a hospital official . . . And in the areas of social welfare, inheritance, next-of-kin rights, immediately we have some kind of status.

WIL: While this bill is fantastic and we do welcome it, we will gain some rights and entitlements, but not all, and we’re very clear about that: there’ll be many that we won’t be entitled to.

DON: They’re picking and choosing where they confer equality, but you can’t have equality where you are creating a separate legal classification for same-sex couples.